Demonstrators Back Ethiopian PM as Rebels Threaten to Seize Capital

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians marched in Addis Ababa on Sunday to offer support to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government as federal troops battle Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces that threaten Addis Ababa.

Protesters denounced the United States, one of many foreign powers calling for an end to the year-long conflict, which has intensified amid advances by rebel forces this week.

Kenya, Uganda, the African Union, and the U.N. Security Council have also called for an end to the conflict that has killed thousands of people.

In a statement on Sunday, the foreign ministry said Canada is withdrawing the families of its embassy staff in Ethiopia, due to its “rapidly evolving and deteriorating” situation. The embassy in Addis Ababa remains open.

Abiy’s government says it has a responsibility to secure the country and urged foreign powers to stand by Ethiopia’s democracy.

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Ethiopia’s state-appointed Human Rights Commission said on Sunday the government appeared to be using the state of emergency declared on Tuesday to arrest people based on their ethnicity.

“In some police stations, the families are denied access to the detainees, and they can’t deliver food and clothing. On top of that, elders and mothers with children are among the detainees,” the commission said in a statement.

Police spokesperson Fasika Fante denied Thursday that arrests were ethnically motivated, saying those arrested “directly or indirectly” supported the TPLF, an outlawed party that was once a part of the Ethiopian government and is now fighting federal forces.

Many of those gathered in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa draped themselves in the national flag.

“Shame on you USA,” read one placard, while another said the United States should stop “sucking Ethiopia’s blood”.

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Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of “gross violations” of human rights and said it would pull out of a trade pact with the U.S.

Armed groups loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized military bases in the Tigray region a year ago, triggering a conflict in the north. In response, Abiy sent troops, who initially drove the TPLF out of the regional capital, Mekelle, but have faced a sharp reversal since June this year.

Some demonstrators voiced anger over a U.S. call for the government and TPLF to negotiate.

Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abiebe addressed protesters and cited Ethiopia’s history of resistance to colonialism to justify the war.

In Tigray, 400,000 people face famine as a result of the conflict, which has killed thousands of people and driven more than 2 million people from their homes.

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United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths met with women affected by fighting in Mekelle on Sunday, according to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

According to OCHA, he “engaged with de facto authorities about the need for humanitarian access and protection of civilians in all areas under their control and respect for humanitarian principles.”

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